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United States v. Ledford

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

July 19, 2019




         Before the Court is a motion to suppress evidence (DE 24) filed by Defendant Lemond Ledford. Ledford seeks to suppress evidence discovered by police during a traffic stop on March 31, 2018. Ledford contends that the evidence from the encounter was obtained as a result of violations of his Fourth Amendment rights. After considering the evidence and arguments submitted by the parties in this matter, I RECOMMEND that Ledford's motion to suppress evidence be DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On July 25, 2018, the Government indicted Ledford by way of a single-count indictment, charging him with being a felon in possession of a firearm. (DE 1). On August 16, 2018, Ledford pleaded not guilty to the charge in the indictment. (DE 17). On November 6, 2018, Ledford filed the instant motion to suppress. (DE 24). The matter was referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for a report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Rule 72-1. (DE 28).

         An evidentiary hearing on this matter was held on February 6, 2019. (DE 32). On May 6, 2019, Ledford filed a post-hearing brief in support of his motion to suppress. (DE 42). The Government filed its response on June 5, 2019. (DE 43). On June 19, 2019, Ledford filed his reply brief. (DE 44).


         At the hearing, the Government offered the testimony of Fort Wayne Police Department (“FWPD”) Officers Douglas Weaver (“Officer Weaver”), Brian Juricak (“Officer Juricak”), and Nicholas Lichtsinn (“Officer Lichtsinn”). (DE 34 Transcript of Motion to Suppress Hearing (“Tr.”) at 2). Ledford did not offer the testimony of any witnesses. For the reasons discussed below I FIND the testimony of the Government's witnesses to be credible.

         On March 31, 2018, Officer Weaver was patrolling the northwest area of Fort Wayne, wearing a fully marked FWPD uniform and driving a fully marked FWPD squad car. (Tr. 6-7). Officer Weaver testified that he worked in that area for some time and knew it to be a high drug and crime area. (Tr. 8-9).

         At around 12:00 a.m., while idling in a gas station, Officer Weaver observed a red Chevy Avalanche truck pull into the parking lot of the Regency Inn and stay there for about 10 minutes. (Tr. 8-9). While the truck was parked, Officer Weaver observed somebody get in and out of the vehicle. (Tr. 8). Officer Weaver testified that when the truck pulled into the parking lot and when it left, he observed that a headlight was out on the front passenger side. (Tr. 8; Ex. 1 at 00:23-00:26[1]).

         The truck, driven by Ledford, pulled out of the parking lot and began traveling eastbound on Coliseum Boulevard in the third lane from the right. (Tr. 9; Ex. 1 at 00:30-00:50). Officer Weaver began to follow the truck and observed it cross and straddle the white line separating traffic lanes. (Tr. 9; Ex. 1 at 00:36-00:045). Then, the truck began to merge into the center lane but failed to indicate the merger with its turn signal. (Tr. 8-9, 14-15; Ex. 1 at 00:36-00:50).

         At this point, Officer Weaver activated his emergency lights. (Tr. 8-9; Ex. 1 at 00:45). Ledford, however, did not immediately pull over; rather, he continued to merge into the center lane and there came to a brief stop. (Tr. 9; Ex. 1 at 00:45-1:00). Officer Weaver, in a further effort to effectuate a traffic stop, activated the sirens on his FWPD squad car. (Tr. 9; Ex. 1 at 00:55). The truck briefly continued to travel eastbound on Coliseum Bouvard, then turned right onto Lima Road where it came to a stop. (Tr. 9-10; Ex. 1 at 01:00-01:30).

         Officer Weaver exited his vehicle and walked up to the front driver-side window of the truck where Ledford was seated. (Ex. 1 at 01:30-01:50). Before he reached the window, Officer Weaver noticed Ledford put a bottle of vodka in the back seat of the truck. (Tr. 10; see also Ex. 1 at 01:50-01:53). Officer Weaver requested Ledford's license and vehicle registration and noticed that Ledford had red and watery eyes. (Tr. 14-15; Ex. 1 at 01:55-02:55). Ledford produced his license but failed to produce his registration. (Tr. 14-15; Ex. 1 at 01:55-03:35). Around this time, Officer Juricak arrived on the scene wearing a fully marked police uniform and driving a fully marked FWPD police vehicle. (Tr. 41-43).

         Officer Weaver returned to his squad car to run the information that Ledford had given to him. (Tr. 14-15). Around this time Officer Lichtsinn arrived at the stop. (Tr. 47-48). Based on Officer Weaver's observations-that is, Ledford had been slow to respond to Officer Weaver's emergency lights and sirens, stopped in the center lane briefly, changed lanes without signaling, had red and watery eyes, and tried to conceal a bottle of alcohol-he believed that Ledford was intoxicated. (Tr. 14-16). Therefore, Officer Weaver intended to conduct a field sobriety test. (Tr. 14-16).

         After running Ledford's information, Officer Weaver returned to the truck and instructed Ledford to step out of the truck. (Tr. 16, 43; Ex. 1 at 05:30-05:36). Ledford did not comply with this instruction, and a struggle ensued between Ledford and the three officers on the scene. (Tr. 16-17, 44-45, 49-50; Ex. 1 at 05:36-06:06). Ledford refused to exit the truck and held on to its steering wheel to keep from being forced out, but the officers overpowered and removed him. (Tr. 17, 44-45, 49-50, 54; Ex. 1 at 05:36-06:06). Once outside of the vehicle, Ledford resisted the officers' instructions to put his hands behind his back and ...

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